China academy-sponsored study says Pearl River a hot spot of antibiotic residue

China's Pearl River flows with residues of three dozen types of common antibiotics widely consumed by top-user China, a Chinese Academy of Sciences-sponsored study found. The study suggests that overuse by humans and animals is the main driver causing densely populated areas to see high concentrations of antibiotic residue.

Ying Guangguo

The study, reported in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), cited work led by Ying Guangguo of the Guangzhou Institute of Geochemistry under the Chinese Academy of Sciences. It focused on 36 of the most common antibiotics, according to the SCMP, such as amoxicillin and florfenicol, noting that use of the antibiotics on the mainland reached 92,700 metric tons in 2013 with nearly 60%, or 53,800 tons, entering the environment in the form of urine and excrement after various wastewater treatment.

More alarmingly, among antibiotic levels in 58 river basins, concentrations were highest around heavily populated Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei province, where rainfall is also scarce, SCMP said, citing the study.

The World Health Organization estimates that China consumes almost half the world's antibiotics, with the mainland the world's largest manufacturer at 162,000 tons of more than 200 varieties in 2013. Many of them are exported as active pharmaceutical ingredients for humans and animals, SCMP said, citing the researchers.

"The usage of antibiotics in China is very high, it's almost half of the world usage when we compare it with international studies," Ying told the SCMP.

In addition, in India, high concentrations of antibiotics were found in waterways near heavily populated areas downstream of effluent from drug manufacturing plants in the southern part of the country in 2011, according to Nature.

- here's the SCMP story and an abstract summary and link
- and a Chinese Academy of Sciences story and related Nature article